ANYONE INTERESTED IN GETTING OFF-ROAD WITH THE BROOD, BUT NOT BY CLIMBING THE MOUNTAINOUS PRICING PEAK OF THE FORD EVEREST, FEAR NOT.
There are other solutions for getting off the bitumen with the family on board at a more reasonable price. Like the Toyota Fortuner and Pajero Sport - the latter Mitsubishi’s replacement for the Challenger.
The greatest difference between the two Japanese brands and the expensive Ford is their price tags. Both, like Isuzu's tough-as-boots but also appealing MU-X, sit within reach of the average buyer.
The Pajero Sport Exceed however holds a near $10,000 price advantage over the Fortuner Crusade (in automatic). Those are not insignificant dollars, but one of these cars is better than the other.
Toyota Fortuner Crusade automatic: $61,990 (plus on road costs)
130kW/450Nm 2.8-litre turbodiesel 4cyl 6-speed automatic
Fuel use claimed: 8.6l/100km | tested: 11.6l/100km
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed automatic: $52,750 (plus on road costs)
133kW/430Nm 2.4-litre turbodiesel 4cyl 8-speed automatic
Fuel use claimed: 8l/100km | tested: 10.1l/100km
We’re in the two top-spec models from Toyota and Mitsubishi - the Pajero Sport Exceed is the cheaper of the pair, priced from $52,750 (plus), while the Fortuner Crusade asks for $61,990 (plus) for the automatic.
That latter price might seem steep until you factor in the cheapest Everest is $54,990, the mid-spec Trend is $60,990 and the flagship Titanium is $76,990, plus on road costs for each.
The Exceed is better equipped in some respects than its Toyota opponent - a rear DVD player, dual zone climate control (although without the Crusade’s rear vents), an electric park brake and the Android and Apple smartphone integration for the infotainment system; the Crusade gets a conventional hand brake but does offer the third row of seats, a powered rear tail gate and additional rear power outlets.
Safety features are also more numerous in the Mitsubishi - both vehicles get a 5-Star ANCAP rating and seven airbags (front, side, curtain and a driver’s knee bag), reversing camera (although the Pajero Sport has the overhead multi-camera view as well) and parking sensors.
Both have LED exterior lighting, stability control with trailer sway and hill start and descent assistance but Mitsubishi has packed in extra active safety - forward collision mitigation, blind spot warning and what the boffins have sveltely named Ultrasonic Misacceleration Mitigation System.
It was this system that had the Paj Sport stranded briefly during a cheeky right-hand-turn across traffic from both directions (which had the sensors briefly detect the departing car ahead and killing all forward movement, which was not ideal).
Both of these off-roaders present a quality interior package, particularly in light of the price tags and the workhorse origins.
The Fortuner has a lower-set centre console than the Paj Sport, which falls short of the Toyota in terms of open centre storage as a result.
Width for legs - particularly if the front seat occupants are on the tall side - is lacking in both but more-so in the Mitsi.
Seating in the Toyota feels a little more comfortable and sizeable compared to the narrower seats in the Mitsubishi and it also has an advantage with the inclusion on seven seats, whereas the Pajero Sport has not yet returned the third row to its cargo space.
The Toyota’s rear accommodation is also the beneficiary of a 12 volt outlet, a 220-volt outlet and rear air-conditioning vents, all of which are absent from the Pajero Sport (which has just underseat venting).
Mitsubishi says the third row - something that was standard in earlier incarnations of the superseded Challenger - is coming, but the timeframe varies from the second half of this year to sometime next year depending on the information source.
So the Toyota scores points for the ability to cart kids and their mates or the in-laws.
The middle row (or in the Paj Sport’s case the back seat) is good for adults in both examples, both in head and legroom, although the presence of a rear entertainment system for keeping passengers quiet on long road trips is points scorer for the Pajero Sport.
The brand also gets kudos for keeping it out of the driver’s view when the screen is folded out; Toyota have been putting DVD players in the back of many of their top-spec people movers and SUVs for decades and has yet to manage this feat.
The Fortuner bootspace ranges from 200 litres with seven aboard, rising to 716 when carrying five people and 1080 litres when packed to the top of the seat backs; the Pajero Sport’s claimed figure is 673 litres with five seated, and 1624 litres to the roof with two occupants.
Bootspace is good enough for most families, although the Fortuner in five-seat mode will frustrate families looking to cram a stack of stuff in; the third row is not an easy thing to take out (TMCA says it can be done but it’s an involved process) which had us hankering for the system once installed in the 100 Series.
The Pajero Sport pips the auto Fortuner by 300kg for towing, carrying a 3.1-tonne braked towing capacity; a manual Toyota wagon (which has less engine torque on offer) rates at 3000kg.
ON THE ROAD
The new 2.8-litre turbodiesel power plant in the Toyota delivers 130kW and 450Nm to move the 2135kg Toyota, while the alloy 2.4-litre engine the Pajero Sport shares with the Triton offers 133kW and 430Nm, although burdened with fewer kilos to move in the 2070kg Exceed.
Even before the automatic’s Power mode is enabled, the throttle response in the Toyota gives it a clear edge around town, feeling far less tardy in traffic despite the weight handicap.
It’s not hamstrung by having only six compared to the Mitsubishi’s eight forward ratios; neither transmission blotted its copybook for rough shifts or hunting during our time on the vehicles, but the paddle shifts on the steering wheel in the Toyota worked better than the column-mounted Pajero Sport shifters.
The paddle shift position problem is amplified by a 3.8 turn lock-to-lock figure for the Mitsubishi, compared to 3.3 for the Toyota.
Ride quality in both is good enough for daily duties in suburbia, although the Toyota feels a little more composed, compliant and quiet, but the Exceed is far from unbearable; neither are lively lane-changers in terms of heading in a different direction.
The Fortuner feels a more solid package on the bitumen; the Sport isn’t a nasty truck by any stretch but it has a little less composed feel overall.
OFF THE ROAD
Having taken both of these off the beaten track, the difference in overall solidity and capability is almost negligible.
The Pajero Sport gets a bigger suite of clever electronics than the Fortuner, but both have rear diff locks and low range.
The margin between the pair in terms of ride quality narrows in to have the Exceed closer to the Fortuner once unsealed surfaces come into play.
The ability to run 4WD high range without the centre-diff locked scores versatility points for the Pajero Sport as well, which also has better engine braking even before the electronics are involved.
Tailoring the off-road electronics to the terrain is an attractive feature of the Mitsubishi’s 4WD system.
But as the terrain degrades the Toyota begins to shine even without such electronic trickery, with superior ground clearance as well as having all its bits tucked up out of harm’s way more effectively than the Exceed.
The Mitsubishi suffered from a problem we've also encountered in the Triton once off the beaten track.
A harmonic dampener on the driveshaft ahead of the rear differential, which no doubt does plenty to keep the NVH down to acceptable levels, is mounted in such a way as to leave itself susceptible to damage.
That not only gives your mechanic something to do above and beyond usual service work, but should it be pushed up into the driveshaft the noise is (having had this issue in the Triton) far from pleasant.
Both demonstrate decent wheel articulation, aided by the presence of a rear diff-lock, but the Toyota proved less likely to grind its underbelly on the undulating terrain.
Electronics aid the Mitsubishi’s forward progress and keep wheel-spin well controlled, not that the Toyota was flailing wildly with its more conventional system.
Both vehicles were drinking at a rate of around 10-11 litres per 100km by the time we had finished with them; the 80 litre tank underneath the Fortuner isn’t ideal for going well off the beaten track but it is far more useful than the 68 litres of fuel carried by the Paj Sport.
The Exceed’s tank is simply too small for 4WD touring in a country of Australia’s size, particularly if there is towing or off-roading involved.
Until the Pajero Sport resurrects the third row feature, the Fortuner is - even without the ability to remove or better stow it - well on the way to offsetting the price difference.
Add to that the better all-terrain ability and added output, plus the solid reputation of the unbreakable HiLux heritage carried by the Toyota, and the Mitsubishi's price advantage becomes less significant.
The Pajero Sport has been stuffed full of features, with admirable active safety, and also has sharp pricing and a better warranty on its side. But the high centre console, smaller fuel tank, more unsettled on-road performance, and less-potent drivetrain has us choosing the Fortuner.
Truth to be told, given the price difference, you will be well-served should you choose either of these capable cars.
And, certainly, if the third row was in place then the Mitsubishi would come much closer to winning this bout, but the Toyota has the road manners, 4WD ability and a sufficient features list to just pip the Mitsi at the post.